The Politics and Art of Beading
The African Spirit Series is currently running at the Baltimore Museum of Art. It has been a soulful celebration of art, music, dance and film. The commencement of the series was the Kawanza Celebration that we attended with Emma in December.
Despite near zero temperatures, and much of Baltimore "closed down" to traffic because President Elect Obama would be speaking in Baltimore, nevertheless, we decided to attend. We rationalized that our attendance was "in the spirit" of this highly anticipated inauguration.
The lecture was presented by Dr. Gary van Wyk of the Axis Gallery in New York. As we gathered in the auditorium for his lecture, we were informed that he was on a train BEHIND the inaugural train coming from Delaware!!! He was obviously detained. Great irony!
As a token of accommodation, we were given an early viewing of one of the African produced films that will be presented in two weeks at BMA. The film was a sobering look at the life of an individual woman from a nomadic tribe in South Africa.
Dr. van Wyk arrived a little breathless and rumpled, but ready to go as soon as his slides were loaded in the projector. He took us on a voyage through the realities of war, politics, symbolism, pride, power and creativity found in South African bead work. The photos I have included are of beaded items in the museum. His talk focused primarily on glass beads.
This doll has been made from thousands of tiny glass beads imported from Italy. Dr. van Wyk had four main points of discussion: 1) beads used to channel ancestral spirits, 2) sacred signs through the use of color and design, 3) the social status, gender, and eligibility of wearer, 4) personal style as exhibited by the woman who did the beading. After the lecture some of us had enrolled in the beading class to follow. In all honesty, when Howard and I signed up for this workshop, we thought we were PAINTING beads, as had been listed on the program. Instead we walked into a large classroom, filled with women ( Howard the only gentleman), and a table LADEN, BURSTING with glass beads. Thousands of beads strung on microscopically thin threads. This was far removed from painting the big chunky beads that we had envisioned!
Can you imagine the sound of hundreds of tiny glass beads accidentally slipping off of their thin filament of thread onto the table, then spilling like water cascading on to the floor? Hmm we quickly got used to the sounds of tinkling glass.
The class was beautifully set up and organized except....the beads were as they had been shipped and it was up to us to undo the delicate "main" knot that held the tiny strands together.
Painstakingly we pulled a sliver of thread laden with beads, our goal was to put a knot at each end of the thread to prevent bead loss. Think knotting a filament thin as a spider's web.
Ah the anguish of frustration as strand after strand of beads broke, scattered and cascaded onto the table then quickly slithered onto the floor.
Here we are all concentrating on creating a design then sketching it on our little wooden plague. The object of the exercise was to design our own symbolic designs, apply STRANDS of beads to the boards with sticky glue and take home a stunning work of art.
Can you hear us laughing? or better yet, crying?
Howard was a super good sport as he struggled to tie the tiny knots. He was more patient than I! Despite the lack of agility and ability, we all laughed, talked and poked fun at ourselves...what else could one do? I suggested we show them to Dr. van Wyk and see if he would like them for his gallery in New York!! Here is my humble START....no, you will not receive it for Christmas! But the fun was sitting with the women as they laughed, cussed and chattered. I LOVE the Baltimore Women, they are unique! I sat by a woman (a strong Sheilah Dixon supporter) who kept me thoroughly entertained as I cheated by POURING my LOOSE beads into a puddle of gunky glue! Individuality and Self Expression!